Sevilla upset sends Real Madrid to second straight loss, third place

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Remember last week? Oh, it was great. All your NCAA brackets were perfect, President Obama’s mom jeans were still funny, and D.C. wasn’t buried under four feet of snow. The world was our oyster and oysters didn’t secretly taste like flat Smirnoff Ice. Halcyon days, my friend.

At least, that’s how Real Madrid might describe them. Seven days ago, we saw the Merengues as one of the top two teams in Europe – the squad that could prevent Bayern Munich from retaining its European title. Since then El Real has lost at home to Barcelona and, after today’s 2-1 at the Sanchez Pizjuan, fallen at Sevilla.

They’ve also fallen behind in La Liga. Atlético Madrid, 1-0 winners of Granada, is alone at the top of the league, now with 73 points in 30 games. Barcelona, overcoming Víctor Valdés’s misfortune to down Celta Vigo, are second with 72. Thanks to its two-straight losses, Real Madrid is now back in third — the place they’ve occupied for most of the season — with 70 points.

The day got off to a strong start, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s opener giving the visitors a lead after 14 minutes. Five minutes later, however, Carlos Bacca pulled Unai Emery’s team even, with the Colombian’s second mid-way through the final period giving Sevilla a 2-1 win.

It’s not like Real Madrid played poorly, though Diego López in goal did have a bad day. The visitors kept 69 percent of the ball and managed eight shots on target, outshooting Sevilla 26-12 overall. They forced Beto, Sevilla’s goalkeeper, into a Man of the Match-caliber performance. Ultimately, however, they were unable to protect their lead and fell for the fourth time this season.

This is why those early season stumbles mattered. This is why there were doubts about Real Madrid’s title chances, even as they looked so good in January. When they finally claimed Spain’s lead, those concerns naturally disappeared, but the logic was the same. Real Madrid’s early struggles — the hole it dug behind Atlético and Barcelona — eliminated its margin for error. They couldn’t afford another down period.

When Atlético and Barça struggled in February, Real Madrid took advantage. Now, unable to maintain their torrid pace, they’re giving new life to those buried worries. With eight rounds to go — having been shaken on Saturday by their arch rivals — Real Madrid need help to claim the title.

That help could still come when Atlético faces Barcelona on the season’s last day. And with each team having shown their vulnerabilities, games like Atleti’s Saturday visit to Athletic don’t guarantee three points.

Yet where once Real Madrid controlled their La Liga fate, now they’re at the mercy of their two rivals. And it all changed over the course of four days.

Porto, Watford, Hull? Marco Silva in demand

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Marco Silva is one of the hottest properties in management, months after eliciting cries of “Who?” following his appointment at Hull City.

While those cries may have been a tiny bit myopic given his time at Sporting CP and Olympiacos, the 39-year-old is now visible to the world despite Hull’s relegation.

[ MORE: Real Madrid nabs $50m teen ]

Silva will be back in England to meet with Hull on Wednesday, but a clause in his contract that said he could leave if the club was relegated gives the Tigers very little hope.

Rumors have him wanted at Watford, and he’s also been linked with a number of other jobs including Southampton (should the club part ways with Claude Puel).

However, the former right back is also reportedly a target of one of the biggest clubs in his home country: Champions League side Porto.

UEFA Europa League Final preview: Manchester United vs. Ajax

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Jose Mourinho’s big European gamble takes center stage on Wednesday in Sweden, when Manchester United attempts to topple young Ajax in the UEFA Europa League Final.

United’s chances for UEFA Champions League qualification, a magnificent opportunity, are overshadowed by the pall cast over Manchester by sinister terrorist attacks at a pop concert that killed and injured many on Monday night.

Alas, there’s soccer to be played, and Mourinho is looking to make it a trio of shiny items in his first year on the job. United beat Leicester City for the Community Shield, then topped Southampton in the EFL Cup Final en route to Sweden.

United’s well-documented dearth of healthy defenders will march out one more time on Wednesday, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones tasked with manning the center of the back line. Expect Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian out wide.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Despite the injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mourinho’s attack is going to give Ajax fits. Marcus Rashford has been next level for most of the second half of the season, and United will also likely feature Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba atop Ander Herrera.

If someone is going to break United down, it could be midfield wizards Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. The creative middle men have a variety of options to find with the ball, including on-loan Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Danish teenager Kasper Dolberg.

But how will they deal with United’s attack? Sure Ajax has stopped Lyon, Schalke, Copenhagen, and Legia Warsaw, but United and Mourinho? That’s another challenge for Peter Bosz and his men.

Ajax won the 1992 UEFA Cup, and this is United’s first ever trip to this particular final. The Red Devils are heavy favorites, and we expect United to prevail. Don’t sleep on Juan Mata heroics. Call it 3-1.

Allardyce resigns, opening up intriguing vacancy at Palace

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Sam Allardyce is walking away on top outside the relegation zone.

The veteran Premier League manager, 62, resigned his post as Crystal Palace on Tuesday, weeks after leading another team to safety.

The move ends a tumultuous eight months for Allardyce, who was fired as England manager after an undercover sting exposed unethical dealings with agents.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

It also comes about an hour after somebody wrote that Crystal Palace should move on from Allardyce. What a jerk, that somebody.

Rarely at a loss for words, here’s Big Sam from cpfc.co.uk:

I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.

This is the right time for me. I have no ambitions to take another job, I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”

All kidding aside — and I’m far from a Big Sam fan — congrats to the man on walking away to enjoy the finer things in life. He had a heck of a run, and we’ll see how long he can resist being away from the fray. Cheers, Sam.

Coach Valverde leaves Athletic, will reportedly join Barca

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MADRID (AP) Athletic Bilbao says Ernesto Valverde will not remain as the team’s coach next season, clearing the way for his expected move to Barcelona.

Athletic said Tuesday that the coach will give more details about his departure in a news conference on Wednesday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported that Valverde has already reached a deal with Barcelona to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he would not continue with the Catalan club.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Barcelona ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The 53-year-old Valverde reportedly will sign a two-year contract with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The announcement is expected next week.

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s.

He previously coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.